BLT-ish Stuffed Pasta Shells

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IMG_5759My garden is in full-on tomato production mode, and I love it.  I’m hoping to process a pile of these red orbs into a few glistening jars of summer to use in the dead of winter (and I’m pretending that the process is not going to be as messy and tedious as it really is), but I’m also completely enjoying having a stash of fresh tomatoes at my disposal for cooking.

I love BLTs and club sandwiches.  And bagels with cream cheese and a slice of fresh tomato.  And grilled cheese with tomato.  And tuna melts with tomato.

IMG_5714It all sounds good, but I was trying to keep my meal plan from looking like the menu from a sandwich shop, especially for the sake of my husband who, as a non-lover of fresh tomatoes, tolerates my tomato growing habit.  So, with BLTs on the brain, an afternoon with lower temps, a tolerable level of humidity that would make turning on the oven bearable, and a good dose of culinary inspiration, I set out to make BLT lasagna.
And then I discovered I had a grand total of 6 lasagna noodles.  Awesome.  Time to implement Plan B, which required boiling water, but I was not about to be deterred.  So, with a stash of freshly-cooked jumbo pasta shells, I set out to make an ode to the sandwich: BLT-ish stuffed shells.  (The “-ish” comes from the fact that you really don’t want to bake lettuce; I used spinach instead.) I opted to use the bulk of tomatoes in the bottom of the dish as a sauce of sorts, mixed with a couple glugs of olive oil, a smattering of garlic, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

IMG_5715The shells themselves are stuffed with a cream cheese and mayo-based filling laced with bacon, garlic, cheese, a bit of tomato, and spinach.  (And in case you’re wondering, if you ever accidentally freeze a package of cream cheese because it was sandwiched between bags of shredded cheese in the plastic grocery bag you tossed into the chest freezer when you got home from shopping, this is a perfect place to use it.)  The whole dish is then topped with one more chopped tomato to aid in keeping the shells moist and sealed in with a good dose of cheese and a generous coating of toasted panko bread crumbs.

My eight-year-old ate three helpings.

IMG_5719BLT-ish Stuffed Pasta Shells

  • 20 jumbo pasta shells, cooked until almost tender
  • 5 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper

Filling

  • 1/2 lb. bacon, chopped (feel free to use up to a pound)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • One 8-oz. brick cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup mayo with olive oil
  • 3 cups fresh spinach, torn
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese or combination of two
  • 1 medium tomato, diced

Topping

  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup whole wheat panko bread crumbs
  • salt
  • pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spread the 5 chopped tomatoes in bottom of 9×13″ baking dish, drizzle with 1/4 cup olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Set aside.
  2. Cook bacon in large microwavable bowl on high for 3 minutes or until browned but not crisp. (Do not drain.) Add onion, garlic, and cream cheese; microwave on high one more minute.  Stir in mayo, spinach, eggs, cheese, and diced tomato.  Carefully spoon filling into pasta shells, starting with about 2 Tbsp. filling per shell; set over tomatoes in baking dish.
  3. Spoon remaining diced tomato evenly over shells.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  4. In small bowl, combine 1/4 cup olive oil and bread crumbs.  Remove baking dish from oven after 30 minutes, uncover, and spread bread crumbs over shells.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Return to oven and bake, uncovered, an additional 15 minutes or until hot and beginning to bubble.  Let rest for 5 minutes.  Serve.

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Salted Caramel, Pretzel, & Chocolate Chip Crispy Rice Treats

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I love my kids.  But spending an entire summer with them is exhausting.  There’s nothing I look forward to more in the weeks leading up to Memorial Day than long days of sunshine, lax schedules, and the dream of spending time “doing things” with my kids.  Somehow I forget reality.  Taking four kids (two of whom can’t walk on their own and require some mode of wheeled apparatus to get around) anywhere makes for long days and short patience.  I forget that in the actual “doing things” there will be pulled hair and requests for snacks and grabbing and “she messed me up” and running after the crawling infant and screaming and whining and other countless fingernail scratches on the blackboard of my mind.  All in the name of fun.  But I love my kids.

Somewhere in the midst of the summer months, I had the brilliant idea to make Rice Krispies bars.  It was hot; they were easy — it sounded like a plan…  Until I reached for the cereal box and discovered we had been eating them for breakfast (gasp!) and I was short one whole cup for the minimum six required.  Bummer.  Plan foiled, because there was NO WAY I was going to pile all four kids in the car for a trip to Kroger for a single box of Rice Krispies.  Then I noticed the open bag of pretzels on the counter with about a cup left hovering in the bottom. Hmmm… could I?  Why, yes.  A humble treat just got a kiss of trendy gourmet.

And here’s the thing: while two of the aforementioned kids slept, two of them helped without bickering or fighting or complaining and snitching only a few chocolate chips from the bag.  We were “doing things”.  And they liked it.

I love my kids.
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Salted Caramel, Pretzel, & Chocolate Chip Crispy Rice Treats

  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 40 marshmallows or one bag miniature marshmallows
  • 2 Tbsp molasses
  • 5 cups crisp rice cereal
  • 1 cup crushed pretzels
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • sea salt (optional)
  1. In large microwavable bowl, heat butter and marshmallows on high for 1 minute.  Add molasses.  Using rubber spatula sprayed with cooking spray or buttered, stir together, making sure mixture is smooth.  Add cereal and pretzels and stir until nearly coated.  Add chocolate chips; stir until mixed.
  2. Spread mixture in buttered 13×9″ pan.  Use your hand to press mixture firmly into pan–best to wet your hand before doing so.  Sprinkle with sea salt, if desired.  Let rest a bit to cool down.  Cut into squares and serve.
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